IT firms rip-off Whitehall again

  TopCat® 21:30 28 Jul 2011

Just how do these incompetents get away, again, with squandering millions of pounds of taxpayers money? Haven't heard of anyone in charge being 'hauled over the coals' and fired - pun intended - because of this tremendous loss over the years, have you? I think it's absolutely scandalous. TC.

ITs here

  Forum Editor 22:39 28 Jul 2011

How do they get away with it?

They get away with it because the civil service hasn't bothered to train IT experts of its own, or to create jobs that would attract industry experts into the service.

As a result we have a civil service that is a soft target, and successive governments that seem to have no idea about what's going on when it comes to IT contracts. You don't have to be an IT expert to guess that a spend of £12billion on a computer system for the NHS probably needs a bit of looking into, or that spending £3500 on PCs that could be bought off the shelf in PC World for under £1000 each is a ludicrous waste of public money.

Now, as if it's something to be immensely proud of, we hear the coalition government boasting about the fact that it has "called a halt to schemes costing more than £100 million" One hundred million pounds? I would call a halt to schemes costing more than £10 million until each one has been thoroughly examined by a group of independent experts.

  morddwyd 23:16 28 Jul 2011

"I would call a halt to schemes costing more than £10 million until each one has been thoroughly examined by a group of independent experts."

I'm afraid that wouldn't work.

As previously mentioned, I have been a member of such a group, examining MoD procurement projects.

In nearly every case our conclusions were overruled in favour of a more expensive, but less efficient, option.

I repeat my example of a manufacturer recommending a tool to turn a cap through 90 degrees, using a peg spanner costing £60. We advised putting a simple screwdriver slot in the cap and using a standard 25p (bulk buy prices) screwdriver (or as most engineers would do, a 2p coin).

They bought the beech handled, stainless steel, invisibly welded expensive version, a dozen of them. Not even a drop in the ocean by MoD procurement standards, but scale it up by all the tens of thousands of MoD contracts, and then up again to Government contracts.

Within ten years most of those who took that decision were working for the company that recommended the tool.

  Condom 01:11 29 Jul 2011

Sorry FE but that statement is simply too simplistic. I clearly remember in the early 70's the Government recruited and trained thousands of IT specialists, programers etc to work in the sytems they had then and for the future. My first experience in computing was a LEO 326 which basically required its own air-conditioned building and was absolutely massive. This was used to create the National Savings Bank moveover to computerised accounts. I can also remember my latter days in the NHS where these people now in powerful positions had created huge organisations for themselves and the thought of desktop PC's taking over from them filled them with horror. I can also recall the scandals over the then Wessex Regional Health Authority's loss of millions in a computer fiasco and so I'm with TopCat. Fire those responsible for letting these situations materialise.

  interzone55 08:49 29 Jul 2011

There has been no evidence to prove these particular claims.

Just saying the Government spent £3,500 on PCs means nothing - is that the cost of a PowerMac used in a graphics department, or is it the total cost of a three year contract including on-site warranty, software licences, disposal costs etc.

Yes, there's very little doubt that £12bn on the NHS system is a complete project fail, it's over budget and under-powered, but these costs rose each time the Government poked its nose in and changed the specs

  spuds 12:14 29 Jul 2011

"called a halt to schemes costing more than £100 million".

They may well have called an halt to many schemes costing far less than £100m, in perhaps convincing the public that further money as to be saved.

Not all that far from where I live, there is a rather large and expensively run Young Offenders Institute. Early last year there were notices published as to a £24m plus extention and modification plan to this establishment. More inmates, so more accomodation and facilities required. This £24m plus would have no doubt reached double or more than that figure on completion. They usually seem to do. Apparently £1.2m as already been spent on planning and access road fixtures, plus other contractual requirements.

That scheme as now been shelved now and for the foreseeable future. As a security issue, steps have had to be taken, so as to reclaim some of the works already commenced. All of which as added further expense to an 'halt' project, that as already costed £1.2m.

Wonder how many similar pre-election schemes have costed as much, and are no longer on the 'wanted' lists. Funny old world, isn't it!.

  interzone55 13:11 29 Jul 2011


What you describe is a result of typical knee-jerk reactions common to many new governments (and new company directors).

They like to flex their muscles and demonstrate their power and decisiveness by making a few snap decisions without the slightest thought towards the consequences.

So we have mass halt to school builds, although millions have been spent on designs and tenders. Shut down dozens of Quangos, but many have long term leases on their headquarters, so more has been spent on redundancies and charges for cancelling leases and contracts than would have been spent keeping them open. Extra workload has been dumped on civil service departments to cover the work no longer being done by the outside agencies.

And we have ministers coming forward saying the government has been ripped off by IT companies, without any visible evidence being produced to prove this. Yes, there's no doubt they've been overcharged for some work, but not to the extent being suggested.

Maybe if the Tories hadn't decided to merge the very competent Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) with the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) this mess wouldn't have happened...

  proudfoot 15:53 29 Jul 2011

This is nothing new. Government ministers get a bee in their bonnets and it does not matter how much it costs they will throw money at it until it works or they are found out and there are complaints. I can speak from experience, the Conservative Government and Mrs Thatcher in particular took it into their heads that if they got rid of the Property Sevices Agency a part of The Department of the Environment they would save money. The result was that hundreds of loyal civil servants were made redundant many of which I being one took their pensions. in fact they were so keen to get rid of us they gave up to 6 added years to the pensions. I have never looked back, it was the best decision I have made in my life. The PSA was a department responsible for the supply and maintanance of the government estate both civil and military. The result was building maitamance went to pot. Do you remember the reports in the news of servicemen in married quarters complaining about lack of getting repairs done. That was just the tip of the iceberg. As a PSA Clerk of Works for many years I had experience of contractors trying to rip of the department. Having the technical experience we were able ensure that value for money was being received for work being carried out. Having been out of the service for nearly 20 years I do not know what the situation is now but initially that was not the case.

  QuizMan 16:21 29 Jul 2011

I have seen this on the inside having worked for a Ministry on IT project management for a number of years. I am proud to say that one such project was an award winning one delivering IT & infrastructure on a £200M project on time and under budget. Needless the say that did not get much reporting in the press. But I digress.

That same Ministry also changed IT suppliers to reduce overhead costs at a later date. It is certainly true, as FE states, that there is insufficient expertise among civil service staff to provide the complex level of IT required. I am not sufficiently financially savvy to know if it is viable to train up the number of staff required to become IT experts. It really would not be that easy. Let's take the Job Centres and Courts as an example. Whilst there is a central HQ, each job centre/courthouse would have it's own communications and patch rooms to maintain as well as provision of IT to front and back office staff. How many staff would that need provide a proper level of service?

Part of the contract with IT suppliers would be appropriate service level agreements including penalties for late delivery. I daresay that the £3500 quoted may well be excessive, but my guess would be that it includes ongoing suppservicesvies too.

As has been said before, simply picking on a single figure of £3500 without judicious delving is not very constructive.

  Forum Editor 19:09 29 Jul 2011

The £3500 cost of a PC does indeed include what the Cabinet Office business plan describes as "infrastructure and applications", but that doesn't convince me.

Part of what I do involves being aware of IT budgets and costs in large commercial organisations, and I have yet to see an average PC cost approaching £3500, even when support costs are written in. The cost of some government IT contracts - particularly in the MOD - has been an industry joke for years.

Big organisations manage to operate global IT infrastructures and new system set-ups at costs which are far below those revealed in the Public Services Committee's report. The committee is hardly likely to claim that some civil service departments are paying contractors between seven and times the standard rate for services and equipment if there isn't some basis for saying so.

Government IT requirements are complex, and often on a grand scale, and I certainly wouldn't want to appear to be over-simplifying the development problems involved - not the least of which is the way that system requirements are often subject to frequent and substantial changes.

The fact remains, however, that we have massively overpaid in the past, and will continue to do so if the habit of reliance on a few major contractors continues. I support the coalition's stated intention of reducing IT contract costs, but I reserve judgement on the ability of Ministers to jolt Civil Service mandarins into the 21st century.

I would have a little more faith if I could see someone with special advisory responsibility for government IT spending attending Cabinet meetings, or at least being attached to the Cabinet Office.

  Crosstrainer2 19:20 29 Jul 2011

A good decade ago, I employed a chap who seemed to fit the network engineering vacancy I needed to fill. He was well qualified (on paper) friendly, and willing to work.

I hope he isn't reading this now. He proved to be totally unsuitable. Simply did not have the skills his paper qualifications indicated and I was forced to "Let him go"

About a month later, I learned that he had been employed by the NHS trust, as a network engineer. As the FE say's, they simply do not bother to check things out properly. Yes, mine was a small company and I perhaps had more time to evaluate and select employees.

But a network engineer who could not terminate a CAT5 cable, configure a router etc. ended up in a well paid job in the NHS.

As far as I'm aware, he is there to this day.

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